At the beginning of the year, one of my many resolutions was to try and read at least one book a month. Little did I know that resolution would be completely thrown out the window when I picked up Donna Tartt’s epic new novel The Goldfinch…but hand on heart, it was completely worth breaking my target for.
Books like The Goldfinch come along once in a blue moon. It consumed my every thought while I was reading it, and is continuing to haunt me now that I’ve finished it. It took me a while to get through, and that’s partly due to its sheer size and my limited reading time, but largely because it’s so exquisitely written that I didn’t want to rush it. Instead I wanted to savour every word and indulge in the beauty of the writing, as well as the story. I realise how pretentious that sounds, but it’s true. I knew I would be disappointed when it was over, and I am. Deciding on what to read next is impossible as it’s going to be such a hard act to follow.
I don’t know where to begin in terms of sharing some insight on what the story is about. I made a point of not reading any of the hype beforehand (which was incredibly difficult to avoid considering it won a Pulitzer Prize and has received columns upon columns of literary critique), and didn’t even read the blurb on the back cover. I wanted it to be a complete surprise, and that’s how I would recommend reading it. It’s best not to have any synopsis in your head before you begin, as that will spoil it. Instead let the story unravel for you for the first time, as it did for me, without any precursors.
So without giving anything meaningful of the storyline away…The Goldfinch is a modern day bildungsroman (I knew my English degree would come in handy one day!). It focuses on one central character, Theo Decker, and traces his psychological and moral development from childhood to adulthood, following a significant event which happens very early on in the book. And of course, as the title suggests, it is also about a painting, The Goldfinch, painted in 1654, by Carel Fabritius. The story is set mostly in New York, but key events also happen in Las Vegas and Amsterdam.
Themes of love, friendship, art and beauty are an intrinsic part of this novel. “Beauty alters the grain of reality”, says Hobie, one of my favourite characters within the book, and for Theo, this couldn’t be closer to the truth. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Tartt spent 11 years working on The Goldfinch, to ensure it too was a work of beauty in its own right.
I’d heard quite a few people say how much they loved The Goldfinch, but that they were disappointed with the ending. It could have gone one of several different ways, with all roads being fairly bleak. But for me the ending drew my personal investment in this novel to an ultimate climax, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. I loved the author’s philosophising and the way in which Theo finally turns to the reader, almost in gratitude, for sticking with him on this epic journey. Some of the final pages I found to be so poignant, and if I wasn’t reading on my Kindle I would have been underlining many of the stunningly beautiful passages like a university student. This is just one which grabbed me by the heartstrings:
“A great sorrow, and one that I am only beginning to understand: we don’t get to choose our own hearts. We can’t make ourselves want what’s good for us or what’s good for other people. We don’t get to choose the people we are.”
I’m gushing because books like this are rare finds indeed. Donna Tartt has been incredibly ambitious and this deserves nothing but a fantastic review. Please read it, if you haven’t already, and let me know what you think. And if you have read it, please let me know your thoughts. This is a book which was born to be discussed!